In May, when the US announced it had killed Osama bin Laden, the Pittsburgh Steelers running back caused a stir with controversial tweets.
The official response was harsh. The Steelers organization issued a rebuke. Champion pulled its endorsement deal. And the Associated Press went after Mendenhall’s character. No mainstream business or political leader stood behind him or his right to air his thoughts.
The incident calls to mind another celebrity’s treatment in another era.
During the Vietnam War the FBI and the INS prosecuted a campaign to deport John Lennon from the US on the basis of visa violations. The episode grew into an extended, painful fight for Lennon, and even caused him to fear for his life.
Since then, the government’s intention to stifle dissent, and the campaign’s Constitutional abuses, have been widely acknowledged.
“The case against John Lennon by the FBI and the INS and by President Nixon and all his people was that John Lennon was disloyal to the United States of America and what it stood for. The real disloyalty was Nixon’s, Hoover’s, the INS’, and all the people who were implicated… because of their perversion, [their] distortion of the Constitution, their violation of the basic principles. That was the greatest disloyalty to this country.”
– Mario Cuomo, former Governor, New York
“Looking back, it was horrible what we did. We were being used by the government to stop dissent, just plain and simple.”
– John “Jack” C. Ryan, FBI Agent, 1966-87
Mendenhall’s tweets and my responses follow.
1. “What kind of person celebrates death? It’s amazing how people can HATE a man they never even heard speak. We’ve only heard one side . . .”
2. “We’ll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style.”
3. “For those of you who say you want to see Bin Laden burn in hell and piss on his ashes, I ask how would God feel about your heart?”
4. “There is not an ignorant bone in my body. I just encourage you to #think.”
In the first and third tweets, Mendenhall poses valid questions to any one who believes in Natural Law, Universal Values, or Practical Reason. Indeed, the Notre Dame student newspaper echoed similar themes in the days after the death announcement, with students and scholars decrying such celebrations on ND’s campus. Here is one such heartfelt view.
The second tweet contains two thoughts. On the first, even 9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey harbors doubts that we know what really happened. “There are ample reasons to suspect that there may be some alternative to what we outlined in our version.” Commissioner Max Cleland went further and resigned from the Commission, calling the investigation compromised. “One of these days we will have to get the full story because the 9-11 issue is so important to America.” Both men exude credibility, having served the country in Vietnam and as US Senators.
Mendenhall’s second thought in his second tweet is supported by the laws of physics. According to the 9/11 Commission’s special NIST report on World Trade Center Building 7, neither a diesel fuel fire in the basement nor structural damage from debris from the towers’ collapse accounted for the implosion though both were proposed as initial explanations. Rather, secondary fires fueled by office paper and office furniture caused the modern, steel framed building to collapse. These are absurd claims. Furthermore, NIST admitted that its conclusions were based on very little physical evidence. To read this government report, published SEVEN years after 9/11, and only after challenges from a disbelieving public, see here, where the report’s authors struggle to explain what they admit to be “the first known instance of the total collapse of a tall building primarily due to fires.”
After reading through a number of Mendenhall’s tweets, it is my opinion that he is a remarkably open-minded, intelligent person. His insight clearly threatened the media-government complex and the campaign against him aimed to stifle further dissent and preclude any wider impact on public opinion.